Opinion SriLankan Airline can only be resuscitated by Harry Jayawardena

Monday, 9 April 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By an Ex-SriLankan staff Member

Successive governments have ruined SriLankan Airlines in many ways. The real ruin started with the appointment of Nisthantha Wickremasinghe – Mahinda Rajapaka’s cameo BIL. Even though he had an excellent board comprising of Susantha Rathnayake, Sunil Wijesinha, Nihal Jayammanne and Sanath Ukwatte, the Board became a post box for the Rajapakas. Today that board is facing potential prosecution. 

The way the Airline was run during that time was a disgrace. Proper recruitment or procurement procedures were not followed; as a result the Board ran up debts unimaginable. We the staff watched in disgust the gross abuse and the board did nothing to stop the Chairman’s excesses. When the new government was appointed there was much hope that the Airline would be run effectively. The Airline went from bad to worse. The UNP appointed people who were friends of the administration. They partied at the expense of the Airline. 

Though the Chairman did not take a salary, he travelled the world; so did the other directors who were all the friends of the Prime Minister, Malik Samarawickrama or Charitha Ratwatte. The opportunity cost of those travels will be revealed soon. There was not one person who knew how an Airline functioned? Then to make matters worse the Government appointed a CEO without any experience. Only qualification, he was Charitha Ratwatte’s brother and he knew how to fly a plane. The aircraft cancellation was not done on time by him; as a result the airline lost millions of dollars. The administration went from bad to worse. 

The entire airline is a mess today. Nobody can deny that; we had dozens of flights not meeting the time lines in the last two months, further reinforcing the ‘usually late’ tag used by the airline industry. I was shocked to learn the Board had agreed to pay big legal fees to protect the salary details of the CEO, when they deny even an increase in a festival advance. The public has a right to know the cost of the CEO, it is a Government owned enterprise.

The entire airline was pleased when Harry Jayawardana’s name popped up as a potential buyer. For weeks the staff hoped that a dynamic board would be appointed. The Government should have appointed a board that understands how an Airline is run. New Chairman Ranjith Fernando is 75 years old, he retired 20 years ago. He was a respectable banker. The Airline needs a Chairman who has run an Airline. I understand Mano Thithawala is a friend of the Finance Minister. Two government officials and an immigration lawyer known to the President is the rest of the Board. 

Now the talk is the Board was appointed to ensure Suren Ratwatte can continue in office. The only person who knows what an aircraft even is – is the Air Force officer on the board. So where do we go from here? The fact that the Government could not get one quality professional from the industry shows how bankrupt the airline and the Government are, practically. For our National Airline to be turned around the Government must request Harry Jayawardena to take it over for six months. He must be given the task of getting a partner. 

The Airline must have a board that understands how an Airline is run, we need Peter Hill back to get the Airline going and bring it back to sanity. He will tell how stupid it was to cancel the European flights and the leases. Someone please save the Airline, this Board does not know how to do it. Certainly, as a CSR project of the Government they will do a good job of running the Airline with Finance Ministry handouts. The problem we have is so many livelihoods are at stake. I retired a few months back from the Airline, for the sake of my co workers. I hope someone will buy our national carrier and redeem them of their fear and stressful existence. Surely this is not the way to resuscitate an Airline?